Will ‘My Sweet Friend’ win the game of cat and mouse?

My Sweet Friend

Helene Leuschel






On one level, ‘My Sweet Friend’ is an insight into the way power struggles and politics operate in business and in personal relationships.  Beneath this narrative is a rather brilliant and poignant analysis of the human mind and mental illness.

Alexa and Rosie are presented via a first person narrative, and this insight plays tricks with the reader’s mind – one questions whose ‘game’ is dominant. The contrasting characters are presented using animal imagery of the cat and the mouse.  Careful choice of verbs indicates who is ‘ambushing’ the friendship.

Alexa, with her ‘immaculate looks’ appears very measured. Her controlled behaviour’ is teased out in every action and word.  Once self-control is lost, and the clouds are overhead, then it is a frightening place for Alexa.  Alexa’s state mind ends up in a place where the ‘waves had turned against each other, foam crowning as they crashed to the shore.’ Fear for the character evokes empathy.

Before reaching the crisis point, Alexa wears a mask of control like a cat waiting to pounce.  Rosie, is forced to confront her vulnerability.  She learns how ‘empathetic skills’ are viewed as weakness by some, if not ‘managed’.  Rosie’s language flows, driven by emotions, and she explains:

‘My cheeks were wet with tears by the time I reached home, feeling abandoned and used and stupid for letting myself be dragged…’

The long sentence and outpouring of emotions amplify the sense of vulnerability.  But the ‘sweet and sour’ characters begin to shift, as the dichotomy is not fixed. If one deconstructs the manipulator’s ‘game’ it is possible to fight back.  However, Alexa becomes isolated, vulnerable and needs support. I was intrigued with the way that this story manipulated my emotions.

My Sweet Friend’ is poetic exploration of vulnerability.  The novella is a shrewd demonstration that:

‘Behind the façade we are all human, fragile and sensitive to judgement.’

Leuschel cracks open the fragility of the human psyche in an artful manner, and clues about the characters’ vulnerabilities are woven into the text. This brutal, haunting story of the human psyche arms the reader with some survival tactics. Despite an uneasy feeling, one finds empathy for the manipulator. Perhaps, this novella will lead to a novel examining what shaped the manipulator’s behaviour, and what happens next.


To find out more about Helene please see my interview with her.


Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

Perfect Anecdote to the Winter Blues in my Handbag

Lizzie Lamb Boot Camp Bride

Boot Camp Bride

Lizzie Lamb






Having downloaded all of Lizzie Lamb’s books, I opened Boot Camp Bride. Remembering Lizzie Lamb’s Scottish romance books, I expected to be travelling with a man in a kilt.  Instead, I was off to London with Charlee, a fledgling journalist.  Charlee is forced to attend a boot camp to get a scoop for the magazine she works for.  I adored the situation set up for this story – such fun! The author is very clever at painting her characters and adding poignant brushstrokes of humour and vulnerability.  Oh my, Charlee’s anecdotes will chase away the winter blues!

First assignment as trainee journalist

Charlee guided me through her adventure, and I could not stop laughing. How does Lizzie Lamb manage to combine humour, adventure and romance?  Charlee was feisty, fun, intelligent and clumsy – perfect.  Undeterred by the alpha male, she managed to fight him with wit and stubbornness.  Lizzie Lamb’s characters and style of writing sparkle in Boot Camp Bride.  This romantic comedy is classic gold: it is the equivalent of comfort food and a good night out with friends.

The soundtrack track to Spectre boomed, as I read the opening chapters of Boot Camp Bride, and Charlee was assigned her first undercover operation as a ‘faux’ bride.  And her ‘self- assurance and sassiness’ made this an absolute hoot.  Charlee’s ‘off the cuff remarks’ constantly entertain.  I adored this refreshingly bubbly style of writing.  The wit and tension fizzed and bubbled like a good Champagne.  At this point, Charlee would observe:

‘If she was beginning to think in clichés, it was time for her to put down the empty glass.’

Bookish setting

However, I didn’t have a glass of anything.  It was a joy to immerse myself in Charlee’s world.  She spoke before she put her brain into gear and is charming, funny and endearing.  Lizzie Lamb used her characteristic turn of phrase to describe that moment when one says the wrong thing:

‘As the seconds drew out, Charlee imagined she could hear the tick of the grandfather clock marking time: feel the chill wind of disapproval whistling round her ankles…’

‘He did a double-take when he saw the cow’s head slippers…’

This captured the moment perfectly! I think there is an element of Charlee in all of us.  She is a very real, honest and intelligent young woman.  Then there is the experienced Bear Grylls meets James Bond type hero, Rafa Fonseca Ffinch, but thankfully he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  I adored the sparks flying between Charlee and Rafa combined with the calamities.  Furthermore, the dialogue is superb, and the scenes were filmic in quality.  Lizzie Lamb is very skilled at challenging stereotypes for comic effect.

The ‘faux’ fiancé’s VW

The narrative hurtles at great speed while the humour awaits the reader around every corner.  Even the weather manages to mock Charlee as ‘hailstones hurled themselves at the window aided and abetted by a cutting wind off the marshes.’  Clever writing makes this novel feel like a trusty companion – I loved it!  It is the sort of book one can return to chase away the blues!

About Lizzie:

Lizzie Lamb, the author

After teaching my 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, I decided to pursue my first love: writing. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride. Although much of my time is taken up publicising Tall, Dark and Kilted and Boot Camp Bride, I published a third novel Scotch on The Rocks in July 2015. It achieved Best Seller status within two weeks of appearing on Amazon. I am a founding member of an indie publishing group – New Romantics Press and have held an Author Event at Waterstones High Street, Kensington, London. The icing on the cake, as far we are concerned, and a fitting way to celebrate our achievements. March 2016 saw Scotch on the Rocks shortlisted for the prestigious Exeter Novel Prize and in November 2016 I held an author talk in London, at Aspinalls. In Spring 2017 I published – Girl In The Castle, which reached #3 in the charts. I am currently working on a novel set in Wisconsin – Take Me I’m Yours, and have more Scottish-themed romances planned.


Lizzie’s Links

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/author/lizzielamb
Amazon author page: viewAuthor.at/LizzieLamb
Facebook www.facebook.com/LizzieLambwriter
Facebook www.facebook.com/newromantics4
email lizzielambwriter@gmail.com
website: www.lizzielamb.co.uk
blog: www.newromanticspress.com
Linked in: uk.linkedin.com/pub/lizzie-lamb/18/194/202/
Goodreads http://tinyurl.com/cbla48d
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/lizzielamb/
Twitter https://twitter.com/lizzie_lamb
Twitter https://twitter.com/newromantics4


Please see all my book reviews at Books In Handbag and my website and blog at JessieCahalin.com.

Innocence and Experience in my Vintage Handbag

Maggie Christensen the Good Sister

The Good Sister

Maggie Christensen







Maggie’s inspiration for the novel

A haunting introduction from a dying woman commences this story. Isobel has written the story of her life for Bel, her niece, to read.  The narrative of the past begins in the thirties, and Isobel’s past life punctuates events in the present day.

Isobel has remained in the same house her entire life while her niece escaped to Australia.  Bel’s move to Australia symbolises the freedom of her generation – she could walk on the ‘long stretches of sand’ and feel the sun on her skin.

Glasgow: ‘She raised her eyes to the grey sky and shivered.’

In contrast Isobel has lived in cold, grey and rainy Glasgow and was inhibited by her morals. But morals seemed to have been loosened, for others, during the uncertainty of war.   But a chill of despair runs throughout Isobel’s life.

I admire the emotional parallels between Isobel’s love for Bob and Bel’s stirrings of a new love, as a mature woman,in her sixties. The contrast between Isobel’s innocence and Bel’s experience is moving; there is a beautiful connection in the feelings. I loved Isobel as she wasn’t bitter about her ‘lost chances’. Isobel seems to seek peace in orchestrating new romance for her niece.  She tells Bel, ‘I want you to get to know each other.’ The elderly lady intervenes in her niece’s happiness because she neglected her own pursuit of happiness.

The mystery of why Isobel remained alone, intrigues Bel and the reader.  Bel’s frustration with her aunt’s passivity, when younger, demonstrates the differences in the generations.

‘Bel couldn’t believe her aunt had been so foolish.’

One does wonder why Isobel denied herself opportunities, but I also felt completely frustrated with Isobel’s love interest, Bob.  Bob is also a victim of the era, as he fails to communicate with Isobel.  I really wanted to know what was happening inside Bob’s mind, and perhaps this is another novel. Why didn’t Bob speak with Isobel? I was furious with him, at times – but that is the fun of reading.

Fashion in Forties

Despite inhibitions, Isobel does have economic independence through the dress shop.  The shop is called ‘Plain and Fancy’, and I wanted to step back in time to visit place.  Perhaps, I could have found a fancy vintage handbag. Isobel’s glamorous presence throughout the novel is impressive.  Isobel is glamorous yet vulnerable, but her life experience translates into a formidable character in old age.  This made me reflect on how we change according to our experiences.

The contrast between the innocence of the young Isobel and experience of the mature Bel is poignant.  It is as if the two characters are one person experiencing the same life in a different era. The novel also shows us that ‘lost chances’ can be avoided, particularly in the twenty first century.

This is a charming, heart-warming story of second chances and the strength of family support.  The narrative moves at a good pace. I found myself hanging on to every word of Isobel’s story and willing Bel to unite with the enigmatic solicitor.  I hope there will be a sequel to this novel!

Maggie Christensen






To find out more about the author, Maggie Christensen and heart-warming stories of second chances see:



Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my website and blog at jessiecahalin.com.


Handbag Bulging with Norwegian Cakes and a Sweet Romance

Time for Honesty

Mette Barfelt






On Boxing Day, it was time to seek solace from the guests. I hid away in my reading haven.  The seasonal dark weather inspired me to light candles, switch on the fairy lights and reach for the trusty kindle.

Earlier in the day, we had strolled past the white Norwegian church in Cardiff Bay, and this reminded me of ‘Time for Honesty’, set in Norway, and safely stored on my kindle. As soon as I opened the book, I read of ‘…old wooden houses, so perfectly in sync with the little town, where white houses abounded.’ I could imagine the delightful Norwegian church feeling far more at ease in its native setting.  Indeed, my wish to read a charming romance, with the magic of Christmas, was granted when lost myself in the novel for an evening.

Emmelin, a travel agent, living in Oslo with her husband and son, invited me to join her in Norway.  Unfortunately, she is faced with the death of her mother.  Her mother leaves her the family home in Solvik with its view of the ocean. Sadly, her mother has ‘taken her secret to the grave’, and one hopes the home will wrap itself around this lost soul, Emmelin.  Unfortunately, Emmelin’s husband is unpleasant and makes unreasonable demands.  Although, very fond of Emmelin, I wanted to yell some home truths about her husband and sister.  This is the twenty first century thus she will discover her independence through challenges – won’t she?

It was a pleasure to get to know Emmelin.  She would be a loyal friend who needs a little support, and the occasional nudge in the right direction.  Fortunately, her friends are always on hand with delicious vanilla custard bakes, custard doughnuts, cakes and cookies.  Despite the troubled childhood in Solvik, it provides Emmelin with a haven from reality.  Solvik is the ideal cosy retreat conjured while gazing into the flames of a cosy fire.  Café Soleside would be my go to destination if I needed a culinary treat to soothe the senses.  I would order smoked salmon and scrambled eggs baked with cream cheese and salad.  Although the food is Norwegian, there is a familiarity with my own culture, and I loved this.  It is also reassuring to be presented with a couple of villains who one hopes will also get their just desserts!

And there are some bitter twists in the novel to evoke your compassion for Emmelin.  The narrative gains pace as it heads towards Christmas.  I hoped there would be a comforting ending to compliment the ‘vanilla custard bakes with sugar glaze and coconut flakes.’ Or perhaps the bitterness of misunderstandings would be soaked up with the ‘creamy fish soup with seafood and newly baked rolls.’

I found a cosy setting for the Norwegian church as, ‘the ocean had frozen as I {she} gazed out at the white, untouched landscape. Little could compare with fallen snow.’ What a treat to find a charming Christmas tucked away in the corner of a sweet novel.  If only, I could have skied over the Welsh mountains to meet Magda, Oliver, Emmelin and her first love.    Instead, I decided to try some of the recipes at the end of the novel. Time to plan my New Year’s Eve menu, and Time to look forward to the year ahead.


About the Author:

Mette Barfelt is a Scandinavian author. After 16 years working for travel agents and airlines, she got a degree in Marketing, before she started writing books. Naturally, with her background in the travel industry, she has travelled extensively throughout the world and visited numerous countries. Her passion for travels and cruises has resulted in the non-fiction book “Alt du bør vite om cruise”, published by Aschehoug Publishing House in Norway.
She is now writing contemporary romances – sweet small-town love stories with a dash of mystery and has already published five books in the Solvik series in Norwegian. The books in the series are stand-alone novels. She lives with her husband and two teenagers, just outside Oslo in Norway.



Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.